by Gail Hamm, Program Director
The caregiver is the unsung hero in the medical journey. Caregivers provide hands-on care and encouragement. They may provide care as an act of love, from a sense of duty, or out of feelings of guilt. Whether caring for a loved one at home or in a nursing facility, the truth is that nothing is the same as it was before the illness.
Schedules revolve around the needs of the patient. Hard choices abound: Is my loved one safe alone while I am at work? While I run to the store? While I head to the mailbox? There are frustrations over added laundry, money worries, lack of help. Many find it extremely difficult to ask for help and therefore create even more challenges for themselves.
As the caregiver becomes more fatigued and frustrated, feelings of resentment may arise. Previous relationship problems only complicate matters. Will I care for this person who has caused me so much pain in the past? Am I not justified in walking away? Guilt feelings abound, sometimes paralyzing the caregiver into inaction.
Additional problems arise when the patient’s needs are greater than the caregiver’s ability to provide that care. If the caregiving lasts so long that there appears to be no end to the journey, the caregiver may become overwhelmed and feel ready to give up.
Conversely, caregiving can be a most rewarding experience. It is an act of love that can draw people closer together and deepen love and understanding.
No one has to “go it alone.” There is help available if both the patient and caregiver are willing to be open to other options. Call a Cancer Services advocate for assistance. Nothing is the same as it was before the illness, but it can be good.
By Mary Jo Wolf, cancer survivor and Cancer Services client
My cancer journey began in November 2008, when I discovered a lump in my right breast. I didn’t panic and went about my evening as scheduled, but the thought of that strange mass lingered in my mind. I had been through an unwanted divorce in April, my family lived 6 hours away, and suddenly, I felt alone.
I went to my doctor on Monday. She examined me and immediately set an appointment for me at the Breast Diagnostic Center. On Tuesday, I had a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound. There was fluid around the mass that needed to be drained, but unfortunately, the radiologist couldn’t get it to drain. I had a total of five biopsies that day, and then made an appointment with a surgeon who would give me the biopsy results. I went to each of these appointments alone, hoping it was nothing. I didn’t believe that I might have cancer and I didn’t want to alarm anyone.
When I met with the surgeon for the biopsy results, my friend Becki came with me. She was diagnosed with breast cancer the previous year and knew I needed support. The diagnosis was DCIS (Ductile Carcinoma in Situ – noninvasive breast cancer). Becki started to cry and I was in shock. A million questions went through my mind. The surgeon recommended a lumpectomy. He would remove the lump and send it to the lab to get the exact diagnosis. He was fairly certain that no more treatment would be needed. My surgery was scheduled for Monday, November 24. My only child’s 21st birthday would be the next day. How was I going to tell her that I had cancer? Surgery went as scheduled and my wonderful daughter gave up her birthday celebration to take care of me.
Unfortunately, at my follow-up appointment , the surgeon reluctantly informed me that another surgery would be necessary because cancer cells were still present, and the mass tested positive for triple negative invasive breast cancer.
A week later, I had a second surgery, followed by complications. The incision would not heal; there was infection and a lot of pain. I met with my oncologist and she explained that I needed 20 weeks of chemo. Although my cancer didn’t spread to the lymph nodes, they had to treat it aggressively as if it did.
Each of us wants life to have meaning, to contain relationships and experiences that make daily living richer and more enjoyable. We want, for ourselves and the people we love a quality of life that makes tomorrow exciting and interesting, caring and comforting. That’s why few things in life are more frightening than hearing the words, “you have cancer.” We understand that. We also know that while life will never be the same after a cancer diagnosis it can be rich and full of many good things.
Here you will read stories of cancer survivors, stories of hope and encouragement, stories of triumph, and thoughts to make your life richer. The postings on this blog represent the heart of Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana. To learn more about the daily work of the organization go to cancer-services.org.
Our hope for you is that cancer, while life-threatening, will become something more. We want to help you find the life-affirming insight that will give you strength for the journey wherever it leads you.
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